This study compared ephedrine versus phenylephrine treatment on cerebral macro- and microcirculation, measured by cerebral blood flow, and capillary transit time heterogeneity, in anesthetized brain tumor patients. The hypothesis was that capillary transit time heterogeneity in selected brain regions is greater during phenylephrine than during ephedrine, thus reducing cerebral oxygen tension.


In this single-center, double-blinded, randomized clinical trial, 24 anesthetized brain tumor patients were randomly assigned to ephedrine or phenylephrine. Magnetic resonance imaging of peritumoral and contralateral hemispheres was performed before and during vasopressor infusion. The primary endpoint was between-group difference in capillary transit time heterogeneity. Secondary endpoints included changes in cerebral blood flow, estimated oxygen extraction fraction, and brain tissue oxygen tension.


Data from 20 patients showed that mean (± SD) capillary transit time heterogeneity in the contralateral hemisphere increased during phenylephrine from 3.0 ± 0.5 to 3.2 ± 0.7 s and decreased during ephedrine from 3.1 ± 0.8 to 2.7 ± 0.7 s (difference phenylephrine versus difference ephedrine [95% CI], −0.6 [−0.9 to −0.2] s; P = 0.004). In the peritumoral region, the mean capillary transit time heterogeneity increased during phenylephrine from 4.1 ± 0.7 to 4.3 ± 0.8 s and decreased during ephedrine from 3.5 ± 0.9 to 3.3 ± 0.9 s (difference phenylephrine versus difference ephedrine [95%CI], −0.4[−0.9 to 0.1] s; P = 0.130). Cerebral blood flow (contralateral hemisphere ratio difference [95% CI], 0.3 [0.06 to 0.54]; P = 0.018; and peritumoral ratio difference [95% CI], 0.3 [0.06 to 0.54; P = 0.018) and estimated brain tissue oxygen tension (contralateral hemisphere ratio difference [95% CI], 0.34 [0.09 to 0.59]; P = 0.001; and peritumoral ratio difference [95% CI], 0.33 [0.09 to 0.57]; P = 0.010) were greater during ephedrine than phenylephrine in both regions.


Phenylephrine caused microcirculation in contralateral tissue, measured by the change in capillary transit time heterogeneity, to deteriorate compared with ephedrine, despite reaching similar mean arterial pressure endpoints. Ephedrine improved cerebral blood flow and tissue oxygenation in both brain regions and may be superior to phenylephrine in improving cerebral macro- and microscopic hemodynamics and oxygenation.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Mean arterial blood pressure may not necessarily be a good index of actual microcirculatory flow in the brain

  • Brain microcirculation and oxygen delivery can be quantified by dynamic susceptibility contrast magnetic resonance imaging

What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • At equal mean arterial pressures, the use of ephedrine results in better brain microcirculation and oxygen delivery than with the use of phenylephrine

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